MEAA is the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance in Australia. It is the union for those working in the media or publishing industry as writers, journalists, editors, photographers and producers. These workers fall under the Media section. The Alliance also caters to actors, performers, TV, theatre and film crew and certain groups of musicians and some sportspeople in other sections such as Equity (the actors’ section) and ECS (crew).
The union differs from professional societies and organisations in that it can, on behalf of its members, negotiate and legally bargain for certain rights and conditions in the workplace and on an industry wide scale including having input into award rates.
As a elected delegate, I get a lot of questions about MEAA and what MEAA can/cannot do for freelancers so I have compiled this list so you have all the up to date information. You can always still get in touch with me if you have more questions or any issues or concerns. But I thought this might be useful.
MEAA Structure and Governance
MEAA has put in a new structure in place and tweaked it for better governance over the past two to five years. This is how that structure works.
MEAA has members, some of who volunteer their time to be on committees as delegates (some are elected roles, some not) and it has paid staff who have the job of advising and supporting members and also implementing whatever direction delegates and board members have decided is best for the union and the membership.
MEAA has a Board, made up of several ELECTED board members from across the sections. The Board oversees issues of governance and accountability. MEAA has a President, who is elected from within the membership and is currently Simon Collins from the musicians’ section. The President presides over the Board meetings and other national meetings such as Federal Council.
MEAA has a CEO as well who is appointed. This is Paul Murphy. He is appointed for a fixed term to basically lead the paid staff and the Board reviews how well he does.
I mentioned before that MEAA has sections: Media, Equity, ECS and the Symphony Orchestras/SOs/Musos/ and so on.
Each section has an elected President and several elected delegates that get together for national face to face and phone based meetings for that section only. So National Media Section’s President is Marcus Strom and I am one of the elected delegates and we have regular meetings. Equity and ECS and the other sections will do the same. Again these are all volunteering members.
At state and territory level, depending on where you are, you will have a committee for each section made up of your nationally elected delegates that hail from that state within that section, a state president and a state vice president. These are all volunteering members. How often you meet and how you organise things, in my experience seems to differ from state to state but if a meeting is held all elected delegates generally have to attend it. Anyone who is keen to volunteer their time can join these committees and get involved. It is how I got involved.
Sometimes, some states prefer to also have a branch council meeting which is all delegates from all sections within one state or territory meeting to chat and discuss issues and share resources to solve common problems if they can and brainstorm. Again, it depends on which state and how people prefer to organise themselves.
Now if you do some math and have about 60 odd delegates per section nationally, you get about 300 odd people when you put them all together so once every one and half or two odd years, we have a Federal Council where all the delegates from all the sections nationally get together and listen to how we are progressing on the strategic plans we have in place and what we need to determine in terms of moving forward and creating new ones and so on. It is a meeting that runs over two whole days.
The paid staff have directors under the CEO for general company stuff like Finance and Communications etc but then we have National Directors for the different sections and then state based Directors under them and then organisers and so on. So there will be a National Media Director (Katelin) and a state based Director such as Tiffany Venning for Western Australia.
Paid staff are hired via ads, while the CEO is appointed. Delegates and office bearing delegates are elected via elections every two years or so and these are overseen by the Australian Electoral Commission. So if you are elected to Federal Council you are an elected delegate for your section nationally.
There are other committees that are set up – some are more informal, some are formal. I am on two other committees: the National Freelancing/Freelancers Committee and the Ethics Committee.
Equity has a Diversity Committee that is able to do massively awesome work for actors. Media works a bit differently so we are trying to focus on getting diverse issues discussed within current committees and getting diverse members to be part of them wherever possible. There are other committees in various sections but I do not know them all. There is one for Digital Media/Comms which I am not on because they have enough people already and I have enough committees which is fair. 😀
What I do
So just to make this easier for you – I volunteer my time as an elected delegate on Federal Council – ie: I am part of the National Media Section Committee of 64 people. In addition to that, when they asked for members to be part of the Ethics Committee I volunteered. I also volunteered to be on the National Freelancers Committee. The former is formal but any member can join when the call is sent out, the latter is informal and again anyone can join though we try to keep an eye on keeping discussions efficient and flowing.
I term myself as your MEAA/freelance rep/delegate. I am not paid for this which can be a common misconception, so just be mindful that I am not paid staff and I can help solve issues and if it involves the databases and software or legal stuff then I can advise and bring in the relevant paid staff member to help fix things. Basically I do not have admin access. But I can and will help.
A few things to note:
- I set aside an hour a week to deal with MEAA related things, be it a meeting or chatting to people as things come up. I try to aim for 5-6 pm on Mondays but I am always happy to chat to people. Email me at [email protected].
- Your discussions with me are ALWAYS confidential. If I judge that either you or I need advice from someone on how to proceed, I will always ask for your permission to discuss it with said person first, whether they are paid staff or another delegate. I don’t share your issues with others whether they are fellow members or staff.
- Sometimes the issues people bring to me can bring up a lot of emotional distress. Your wellbeing always comes first so I am always ok with taking the time needed to sort out an issue. If you need to step away from it for a bit, we can always resume it later. If you wish to drop it, we can drop it. That decision is always yours.
- If you ask me for advice I will tell you what I know to be true and correct. Please read my replies carefully and ask me if you are confused about anything. I am always happy to clarify. Sometimes I am replying on the move so I may have typed something incorrect and not noticed.
- If I have not responded after two weeks, email me again AND message me on social media. My spam filter is sometimes overzealous and I miss stuff.
What MEAA can and cannot do
MEAA can advise and/or assist you on the following if you are a member:
If you are employed in-house as a a full time/part time/casual employee, your contract, pay, working rights and conditions and any agreement or EBA you are part of.
If you are employed as a freelancer, your contract for work, copyright issues, super, tax and certain rights and conditions as covered by Fair Work.
Regardless of your employment status, MEAA can also provide networking and training opportunities.
What MEAA cannot do:
If you are a freelancer, MEAA can help you on an individual basis but I have been told that the Fair Work Act legally prevents MEAA from negotiating or bargaining collectively with employers on behalf of freelancers. Stay tuned for updates on that situation.
MEAA can advise you on your options for pursuing income or super that is owed to you as there is a process and they can guide you through it.
MEAA cannot do anything for members that is outside what they are legally allowed to do, even if it makes sense to do so given the current changing nature of the industry. The laws have to be changed first and MEAA is campaigning with the Change The Rules campaign to do just that.
MEAA fees including Freelance Pro
Fees for MEAA members in the Media section are determined based on self reported annual income for the previous financial year for both in-house and freelancing members. Before the end of each financial year, an email is sent out reminding members to report back on what their income was so that their fee levels can be adjusted accordingly.
The lowest fee for freelancers is $365 per year. The student fee is $55 per year, the benefits are the same except you get no voting rights and TAFE, PhD and Masters students are all equally eligible to take on the student rate. You can add on an extra layer called Freelance Pro if you want public liability insurance. It is not compulsory just because you are a freelancer.
Being a member allows you to enter the national Walkley Awards and any state based awards for free which is great because they usually have an entry fee of $100+ per entry for non-members. You can also get discounts on travel, entertainment and other things through your membership.
I recommend: 1. joining as a student if you are studying anything and 2. joining when you are financially able to do so.
Membership is direct debited from your account however often you want it to be, it is tax deductible and you can cancel your membership at any time.
What MEAA is currently working on for freelancers
MEAA has been given a list by the National Freelance Committee of what they want MEAA to do for freelancers going forward. Currently MEAA are:
- reorganising the website to add a new freelance section and make it easier to find freelance related information
- working on a rate tracker that rates will be added to that will go public
- supporting the ACTU’s Change The Rules campaign which will hopefully give MEAA an opportunity to legally sit down with major publishers and organisations and discuss what they can do for any freelancers that they hire in the future.
There are other things in the pipeline that we are still working on and so when they can be discussed I can let you all know. The paid staff are small in number and scattered across the country and often stretched and therefore there can be delays in getting things up and running.
Superannuation and income for freelancers
Superannuation collection involves a process. MEAA can advise you as an individual on this process and the ATO can also assist. You are owed 9.5% pro rata as full time/part time/casual if you are employed in house. You are owed super if you earn more than $450 per month from one employer as a freelancer. The ATO can help you determine if you are owed money.
Income owed to you is something MEAA can definitely help you with. There is a letter of demand that MEAA can help you draft and steps after that, including mediation, if necessary. If your ABN is on your initial invoice, you must be paid the full amount. Not declaring your ABN allows clients to withhold up to around 40%.
Complaints about paid staff should be directed to Paul Murphy at [email protected]. If there is no reply after two weeks, email again and let me, or even better, a Board member know. Complaints about delegates should be directed to Simon Collins at [email protected].
Complaints about MEAA members producing stories that go against the MEAA Code of Ethics need to be directed to our ethics committee and should be sent to Simon Collins at [email protected]. The complaints must state specifically what ethics have been breached in the reporting or producing of the story and you can find the code here. Only journalist members of MEAA are bound by the Code of Ethics though some places may use it as a guideline for their own codes so please be mindful of that. You can also complain about the organisation producing the story to the Australian Press Council.
The Ethics Committee can only look at stories involving MEAA members not at stories produced by non-members as the Committee is based within MEAA. The Committee chooses a panel of both Ethics Committee members and public members to investigate each complaint. There is a process in which both sides are contacted and asked for information before an decision is made. Appeals are possible and have a procedure of their own with a different panel appointed.
Questions about the Walkleys
The Walkleys are a seperate foundation with a CEO and staff of their own. The Walkley Foundation works with MEAA to deliver the Storyology Conference, the National Walkley Awards, the Equity and Walkley magazines and occasionally other campaigns, events and training. Handling of these events etc are under the purview of the Walkley Foundation.
Issues with these things have been raised with delegates and the feedback has been passed on to the Walkley Foundation and there is a process to go through to make sure any issues are being fixed. The Foundation has just changed leadership and is undertaking a review of how it is handling things.
The Walkleys are not MEAA.
Contact info for MEAA
Any other questions? Let me know. Feel free to email me at [email protected]